Supporting women at work
When high performing women employees struggle to find a fit
When women move along in their careers, many of them – despite clear talent and colleagues who value them – end up getting stuck. They can’t find a sustainable groove with the organization or don’t advance as they would like to. Often, they reluctantly leave the organization or group where they have built a professional home, hoping to find a place that fits them better or offers more opportunity.
Everyone has an interest in addressing the problem of retaining valued women colleagues, given how beneficial it is to grow talent rather than replace it, and how rewarding it is for high-potential women to build a sustained career in a supportive environment.
The leaders of many organizations have set the goal of better supporting women so that they can hire and retain the best. Kenning has partnered with clients to support this aspiration. What follows is our take on the opportunity and how we approach it.
The challenges that women professionals face are well known: charting a career path with an upward trajectory even when interrupted by family leave intervals; finding a sustaining and renewing work-life balance; and addressing concerns about style gaps that are often out of synch with the other positive performance feedback they receive.
We have identified several opportunities for supporting women professionals, which include both changing mindsets and expanding skill sets:
- Sense of personal mission. We have seen women benefit by achieving more clarity on what gives them authentic work satisfaction. Seeing how they can bring their best self to work more consistently points the way to creating situations that lead to greater satisfaction. As greater enjoyment feeds stronger performance, they can convey energy, enthusiasm, and commitment that others appreciate and reward with greater responsibility. With a strong personal mission, they can look for places in the organization where they fit best and proactively find a path to get there.
- Thoughtful team management. We have seen women benefit from developing greater comfort with managing their teams to give themselves more capacity. This may mean assigning direct reports more stretch opportunities, after understanding and getting past discomfort with delegating. It may also include setting priorities so they can make better trade-offs with their time, and setting boundaries while also being flexible.
- Greater style versatility. We have seen women benefit by better matching the styles of different groups to give what’s needed in the moment, particularly important in organizations that have larger than average ratios of men to women. Successfully flexing their style often requires that women face and overcome hidden sources of discomfort. Developing self awareness around their talents and tapping that confidence in high stakes situations can help women fight more successfully for airtime in meetings, for example. Developing other awareness and fostering curiosity about the perspectives of colleagues when faced with a difficult situation can lead to greater calm and equanimity and ultimately better leadership.
When we work with clients on retaining and developing women, our belief is that we can best contribute by giving executives a unique top-down view of their organization (e.g., what does our system reward? what behaviors does it reinforce?) and by offering direct support to high-potential individuals.
Organizations that retain and develop women successfully generally boast healthy, intentional organizational cultures: they can talk openly about challenges to segments of the workforce and mobilize for action when needed. Given the importance of culture, we work with leaders to assess their organization through diagnostics that look at the system as a whole and how the culture is supporting goals for retaining and developing women. Culture diagnostics can be immensely powerful for fostering top leadership alignment and pointing to the places where small changes – in policies, in roles, in behaviors – can have the most effect.
At the individual level, we work directly with women who are on the job and facing a challenge, offering ongoing dialogue to help them navigate their unique options, examine what degrees of freedom they have, and find ways to unlock personal time and capacity. This could be through one-on-one coaching, peer support groups, or learning programs. Supporting individuals – while tremendously valuable and potentially life-changing – can also begin to shift the overall culture as people begin to recognize their own potential to make different choices.
To discuss your situation and learn more about our offerings, contact us.